Mondulkiri Itinerary : What To Do and How to Get There
Created by Colleen Sims * 15 March 2023 * Updated 12 September 2023
Mondulkiri really should be on your Cambodia itinerary! If you think this region is only the domain of backpackers or adventurists then think again; it offers something for all travellers.
As with all our time in Cambodia, we wish we’d allowed longer, the Mondulkiri Province in the north east of Cambodia has so much to offer. It’s easy to reach from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and local tours are easily arranged.
Why You Should Add Mondulkiri to Your Cambodia Itinerary
Home to vast jungles, beautiful rainforests, majestic rivers and waterfalls, incredible wildlife and indigenous tribes, the Mondulkiri province offers a wealth of experiences for all kinds of independent travellers.
We went to see elephants and it was all we had on our Mondulkiri itinerary. We realised too late that we could have spent much longer exploring this quite corner of Cambodia.
5 Days Private Tour of Kratie & Mondulkiri
- Door to door from Phnom Penh
- Exclusive private tour inclusive of guide, driver and accommodation
Mondulkiri Itinerary : Why Should you Visit?
I only decided to visit Cambodia because I’d read a blog about the elephants that live in the jungles around the town of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri Province. I love elephants and here you can spend a day trekking with these magnificent animals. Trekking and elephants was a match made in heaven for me.
Visit this area to discover some of Southeast Asia’s most diverse ecosystems. Mondulkiri, the largest province in Cambodia, allows you to experience the beauty of the rainforests and witness the wildlife first hand.
Whether you choose to visit the Elephant Sanctuary, visit Seima protected rainforest, the local Bunong tribes, or swim in the pools of Bou Sra waterfall there are many reasons why Mondulkiri should be part of your Cambodia itinerary.
What to do at Mondulkiri?
If you are looking to explore the stunning natural beauty of Cambodia then this is the place for you. This region is wild and vast but the forests and the people are living under the threat of logging and the rainforest is shrinking.
Volunteer for the Day at The Elephant Valley Project
If you’re want to try something very different, then why not volunteer for the day at Elephant Valley Project? This organisation works to help save the endangered Asian elephant population. You get a hands-on experience helping the elephants, cleaning their enclosures and helping to create activities for them. You can spend a day or a few weeks if you have the time; either way it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience. Contact EVP direct to find out more about visiting
Visit the Elephant Community Project
Visiting the Elephant Community Project is an amazing experience; we wont ever forget our day here. Not only do you get to learn about their elephants and their conservation efforts, but you also have the opportunity to observe the elephants up-close in their natural habitat and even help out with some of the projects that are being carried out there.
The project is dedicated to providing a safe haven for rescued wild elephants and helping them to adapt back into their natural environment.
We spent the day here and it was very different than our day with the elephants at the Mondilkiri Project. The forests here are owned by the local Bunong tribe and we learned so much about the difficulties faced by the local tribes and how they are struggling to retain tradition in a rapidly changing world (and shrinking forest).
We followed the elephants through the jungle and could interact with these majestic creatures, we observed them in their natural habitats and for a lot of the time we simply sat back and watched them. It was a simple day but that was part of the charm. Be prepared for plenty of walking (there other trips with less); it’s so beautiful, you feel like you’ve arrived deep in the jungle, crossing rivers on simple bridges and trekking through forest and valleys.
Top Tip : If you only have one day spare to see the elephants in Mondulkiri then we really loved this day; book via their website.
Stay and Hike at the Mondulkiri Project
The Mondulkiri Project aims to protect it’s vast forest and diverse ecology by creating protected reserves and wildlife corridors. This non-profit charity works hard to ensure that all the species living within its boundaries are respected and protected from poaching, illegal logging and other threats.
In October 2013 the Mondulkiri Project signed an agreement with Bunong indigenous elders from the Putang Village and the Orang Village. This agreement stops logging in an area of beautiful Mondulkiri forest near Sen Monorom.
You can spend a day here, trekking through the jungle with their elephants; who are so full of character! You can swim with the elephants, although I was a little unsure about the elephant swimming and washing, thinking it was a little like a performance, but actually the elephants almost ran into the river to join us. They actively participated and when they’d had enough they left. What an amazing experience.
We only spent one day with The Mondulkiri Project but you could extend the tour by a day and sleep overnight camping in the jungle, followed by another day of trekking. However on our return drive to our guesthouse, we sat beside a lady who did the 2-day trip. She wasn’t thrilled about her second day and I felt that we’d made the right choice with our single-day option. Day two is a hard trek, it’s stunning and beautiful and you camp out in the rainforest which is amazing but nonetheless its tough; so make sure this is for you before signing up! The Project are very clear that the second day isn’t for everyone… but their first day is!
Hike with the Bunong Community
Hiking with the Bunong is a unique and unforgettable experience. Spend the day with this ethnic minority community and you’ll have the chance to observe their traditional way of life and learn so much about their language and customs. The people are friendly and welcoming, and we loved listening to the stories about their lives and celebrations and beliefs.
We were able to visit a family in a traditional home and, through our guide, we were able talk with the family. It’s quite a humbling experience to spend time with the Bunong; their spirit is infectious, their knowledge of the forest is immense and their traditions are as ancient as the forest itself.
The hike can last an hour or a few days but no matter how long or short you choose you will no doubt enjoy plenty of breath-taking views along the way. This is a beautiful tour and one that will stay with us for a very long time.
Keo Seima Protected Rainforest and Wildlife Sanctuary
Keo Seima Protected Rainforest is a stunning natural paradise and sanctuary that covers 300,000 hectares of protected rainforest. It’s home to a variety of rare and endangered species such as the Asian Elephant and the Giant Ibis.
The sanctuary was established in 2002 as part of the government’s effort to protect these vulnerable species from illegal hunting and deforestation activities. In addition to its wide array of wildlife populations, the sanctuary also offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore this corner of Cambodia
We never had time to visit Seima or the Jahoo Gibbon Sanctuary but other travellers at our Guesthouse were absolutely thrilled with their experience. It seems wherever we’ve gone in Cambodia we always manage to underestimate the time that we should stay.
Be Amazed at the Bou Sra Waterfall
Bou Sra Waterfall is a stunning waterfall surrounded by lush jungle and breath-taking views. Its cascading waters plunge into a deep pool creating an oasis, ideal for cooling down on a hot day.
A 45-minute drive from Sen Monorom, the best time to visit the Bousra Waterfall is during the dry season (usually between November and April) although it’s popular with locals and tourists year-round.
It can get busy and swimming isn’t always possible but some folks did get out and under the falls. Locals like to dress-up in traditional costumes and take photos and many families arrive with picnics and spend the day.
Sadly there was a lot of rubbish and litter at the site, but that aside it’s a fabulous day trip and reachable in a tuk-tuk.
As coffee lovers, we had read a great deal about Mondulkiri coffee and also about the region’s speciality wild honey. I’ve read reviews on tripadvisor but when we visited we couldn’t find a tour; I understand that this situation has changed and visits can be arranged locally.
Mondulkiri coffee is grown in the upland rainforest region of the Province. It has a rich, earthy flavour with hints of nutty sweetness and a lovely chocolaty taste.
The wild honey is produced by the giant honey bee that lives in the rain forests. It is collected by skilled locals and is renowned for its smooth taste and reported health benefits.
Sadly we didn’t find a way of visiting or tasting either; perhaps this is yet another reason for us to return! (if you find any then please let is know)
How Long Should you Stay in Mondulkiri Province?
Mondulkiri is an amazing destination and felt like nowhere else we’d been. We didn’t research in advance the best places to visit and so our Mondulkiri itinerary was too short.
- We had three full days and that was not enough.
- If you are short of time then two days should be your minimum
- If you can spare the time then I would have happily stayed five or six days here.
We met a guy in our guest house, he had spent a few days exploring the region and over breakfast he declared that he was going to stay an extra day simply to reflect on all that he had seen. He was right. We learned so much and saw so much that Mondulkiri almost demands that you take time to sit back, relax and reflect. We really need to slow down and follow his lead.
Best Time to Visit Sen Monorom
The best time to visit Sen Monorom is between November and April. It’s not too hot or too humid and the rains haven’t arrived. We were there early February; it was still hot and humid but locals told us it was very pleasant.
It is possible to visit at other times of the year but travelling in the rainy season may be more difficult in remote areas and subject to possible cancellations if roads are impassable. Check with your tour or accommodation in advance if you have any concerns.
Where to Stay in Sen Monorom
If you’re visiting Mondulkiri, you’ll probably stay in the town of Sen Monorom. There are a range of hotels, guest-houses, home-stays and hostels to suit all pockets. It is important to note though that this area is developing in terms of tourism, so keep your expectations in line with this. However, the generosity of the local people will astound you!
I spent ages looking at options for our accommodation. Initially I opted to stay in the Pidoma, as it has rave reviews and looks amazing. But we travel with an eye on our budget and Manel’s Guest House had such great reviews that I switched. It was a great choice! Honestly, whilst this accommodation is simple, it is so comfortable and welcoming and friendly that you won’t want to leave! If we ever return to Mondulkiri this is where we’d stay again.
Budget Option : Manel Guest House and Restaurant
After spending hours reading reviews online, both of the hotels below were on my short list. I have no doubt you’d have a very comfortable stay in either of these. Indeed our Bunong Guide worked with Greenhouse and he had only great things to say about the accommodation.
Mid Range : Greenhouse Retreat
Treat : Pidoma Resort
How to travel Around Sen Monorom and Mondulkiri?
We took the bus from Phnom Penh and walked to our guest house; we could have called for a pick-up but after the long journey it was good to walk. Many of the guest houses can arrange pick-ups and if they are like ours, they will also arrange your tours.
There are a few options for getting around the area. Tuk Tuk’s are available although we found the GRAB app didn’t work here. Having said that tuk-tuks are a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to get around. A chap in our guest house booked a tuk-tuk for the day and visited several sights around Sen Monorom.
For some of the more remote areas that we visited, we were collected from our guesthouse and taken to a meeting point in a tuk-tuk. From there we transferred to 4×4 transport. All of our pre-booked tours collected and returned us to our guesthouse.
It is possible to hire scooters here but honestly, in the more remote areas around Sen Monorom, the roads are in very poor condition and we would never recommend this mode of transport.
What Will You Eat in Mondulkiri?
This area is rural and relatively poor and the food reflects this; it is simple and tasty and wholesome. Expect to find a lot of spicy curries, savoury stir-fries, fried rice and noodles.
Local dishes could include nom banh chok (rice noodles with curry) or bai sach chrouk (pork and rice). If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Kuy Teav, a traditional pork noodle soup. You may also find amok (a type of fish curry), or Gerry’s favourite, lok lak (a stir-fry made with beef, red peppers and a variety of spices). I enjoyed the lap mei (rice noodles served with chicken, eggs and vegetables).
Our guesthouse had an extensive menu and would prepare food fresh for us at any time; and they were gluten and dairy aware. The day we arrived I was sick and I knew that I had eaten gluten somewhere on the journey. The owners were so concerned that they went out of their way to ensure that I ate well for the duration of our stay.
On our tours we were served a range of vegetarian curries with rice and an assortment of fresh tropical fruit. There was always a plentiful supply of food and it was always very tasty. Bottled water was also available along with hot strong local coffee.
Safety Concerns in Mondulkiri
Mondulkiri Province has much to offer the intrepid traveller and is be a great place for an unforgettable adventure. However, as with any travel destination some safety concerns should be considered before visiting.
Malaria is an infectious disease caused by parasite-carrying mosquitos and is prevalent in many parts of Southeast Asia, including Mondulkiri Province. You should take necessary precautions against mosquito bites with a reputable insect repellent and it is advisable to wear long sleeve shirts and trousers when outdoors, especially during peak ‘bug’ times which is dusk till dawn.
Antimalarial medication should also be taken prior to travelling and throughout the duration of the visit. You should talk to your doctor before leaving home for further guidance.
We cannot stress enough that you’ll need bug repellent. In the jungle the air is thick with buzzy things. Thankfully, our repellent worked and we weren’t bothered (and I usually always am!) Also, if there is a mosquito net on your bed then ensure that you use it!
Rabies is a virus that affects mammals, most commonly dogs and cats, but can also be transmitted to humans through bites or scratches from an infected animal. Vaccination against rabies may be recommended prior to travelling, check with your own doctor before leaving home.
As tempting as it is to stroke a pretty cat or a dog on your travels, you should avoid contact with animals, particularly strays. If bitten or scratched by any animal you seek medical attention immediately.
Other Potential Dangers & Health Risks
Sen Monorom is a quiet town but, as with all areas, visitors should stay vigilant with belongings and pay attention to general health concerns.
Do not drink the water. Do drink bottled water or also take a Life Straw (just in case if you are in any doubt) AND stay hydrated! Ensure that you regularly wash your hands and be aware of poor hygiene practices. I carried a travel pack of wet wipes and toilet tissue at all times.
Stay alert to environment hazards when travelling through rural Mondulkiri; wild animals such as snakes and even elephants can be very dangerous.
Overall, Mondulkiri Province is a safe and enjoyable place to visit. Travelling with an awareness of possible dangers and being mindful of your environment will ensure that you have an amazing experience.
What to Take With You
You need very little for your trip to Mondulkiri so you can pack light but do make sure that you pack appropriately. ALSO Remember to take cash with you as ATM’s are few and far between here.
If you are here to visit the elephants then you’ll need long trousers and long sleeves. Folks who wore shorts and t-shirts regretted their choices on the treks. I really love Craghoppers Nosilife range of shirts and trousers when hiking; they’re perfect for outdoor-wear.
I took lightweight hiking shoes. You don’t need heavy boots and I think the terrain is too unstable for hiking sandals. The terrain is steep and dusty and after rain can be very slippery so a proper outdoor shoe is needed. My two favourite hiking shoes are Altra Lone Peaks or my Merrell Moab Mid boot; either would be ideal here.
If you wish to swim with the elephants or at the falls then you’ll need to take swimwear with you. Everyone wore their swim suits under their clothes rather than change on site, and we simply let ourselves dry a little before putting our clothes back on.
Day Rucksack or Bag
I always travel with my rucksack. I LOVE my Osprey Tempest and I’ve been using this since 2016. It’s not too large and not heavy so it can double up as a day pack when we’re off on these one day hikes. You will need a bag to take swimwear, bug repellent, sun cream and water.
It makes sense to travel with a simple first aid kit. And you will need sunscreen and jungle strength insect repellent and some kind of sun hat. We have both have Tilley Hats and keep them clipped on our rucksacks when travelling, they’re perfect in such hot climates!
Travelling To and From Mondulkiri
We used Virak Buntham express minivan to take us from Phnom Penh and to take us onwards to Siem Reap. We had read various reports of these minibuses from great to awful and it was with some trepidation that we took our seats. But, we loved the journey and would happily take more. (Gerry wrote a great post about transport in and around, and to and from Phnom Penh)
This kind of travel is not only a great way to see the countryside, but it’s also very inexpensive and it’s an ideal mode of transport for anyone who wants an adventure off the beaten track.
To or From Phnom Penh
If you’re travelling from Phnom Penh, you can travel like us in the express minivan. Most depart daily at around 7am and arrive in Sen Monorom late afternoon/early evening, after stopping at various towns along the way. The journey takes around 7 hours depending on the stops and the traffic.
To or From Siem Reap
We travelled onwards with Virak to Siem Reap, the bus departs at around 7am and arrives around 10 hours later, again depending on traffic and stops. We loved our journey but we made a mistake with our seat choice, apart from this it was great.
If we were to do it again we might opt to break the journey. There was a mid-point town on the Mekong which looked interesting for an overnight stop. I also really regret not visiting Kratie.
TOP TIP : don’t sit in the front passenger seats behind the driver as hot engine air pumps out around your feet and there is limited foot room.
Private Taxi Transfer
When our son visited Cambodia there were five in his group and this meant they could afford private transfers. This is a great option for a group or if you’d rather pay for a little more comfort and have more control over the journey. Viator offer a great private transfer option.
A Note About Roads and Driving
Travellers should be aware that the roads in places can be a little rustic, so plan for a bumpy journey. Also, whilst there are regular stops, it will be easier for you if you take plenty of snacks and water for the journey.
Also, drivers use their phones (whilst overtaking at speed on the brow of a hill). Driving standards might be a little different so we decided it was better to focus on the glorious scenery rather than the driving.
The Last Word : Should Mondulkiri be on your Cambodia Itinerary?
Absolutely! Mondulkiri is a must-see for independent travellers visiting Cambodia. This unspoilt province offers plenty of opportunities to get off-the-beaten-path and explore the authentic side of this fascinating country. Whether it’s hiking, wildlife watching or simply soaking up the peace and quiet, there’s something for everyone. We wished we’d stayed longer and we wish we’d kept a day free just to reflect on all that we had seen and learned.
Make sure you don’t miss out on this incredible experience and add Mondulkiri to your itinerary! You won’t regret it!